Category Archives: Mark L. Movsesian

Notre Dame Law Review Symposium on Dignitatis Humanae (Nov. 5-6)

University_of_Notre_Dame_739399_i0Next month, Marc and I will both be presenting papers at a symposium on the 50th anniversary of Dignitatis Humanae, the Vatican II declaration on religious freedom. The symposium, sponsored by the Notre Dame Law Review, will take place in South Bend. In addition to Marc and myself, panelists include Thomas Berg of the University of St. Thomas School of Law, Paul Horwitz of the University of Alabama School of Law, Christopher Lund of Wayne State University Law School; Brett Scharffs of Brigham Young University Law School, Steven Smith of the University of San Diego School of Law, Anna Su of the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, and Richard Garnett and Phillip Muñoz of Notre Dame Law School.  The panels will be moderated by Judge Richard Sullivan of the Southern District of New York. The Symposium will feature a keynote address from John H. Garvey, President of The Catholic University of America.

Further details are here. CLR Forum readers, please stop by and say hello!

Throwback Thursday: June 2014


At the Center’s Conference on International Religious Freedom in Rome, at which Pope Francis gave the keynote address. In addition to His Holiness, that’s Center Director Mark Movsesian, Associate Director Marc DeGirolami, and St. John’s Law School Dean Michael Simons (L-R).

Oxford University Press Adds Movsesian Lecture to Online Legal Research Library

For those who are interested, I see that Oxford University Press has added my lecture on Mideast Christians, which I delivered last year at the Lanier Theological Library in Houston, to its online legal research library. The Oxford link is here. Thanks!

Religious Freedom and the Supreme Court: A Conversation with Judge Richard Sullivan (Oct. 27)

220px-Richard_J._SullivanThe Center for Law and Religion invites you to join us for a conversation with United States District Judge Richard J. Sullivan (left) about current and potential issues before the U.S. Supreme Court involving religious freedom. Topics will include the ongoing contraception mandate litigation, conflicts between the rights of same-sex couples and rights of religious conscience, and the future of religious freedom in the United States. Light refreshments will be provided.

The event will take place on  Tuesday, October 27, 2015, from 6-8 p.m., at the offices of Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett,  425 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10017. It will be hosted by Mary Kay Vyskocil, St. John’s Law Class of ’83. The event is free, but space is limited and advance registration is required. To attend, please RSVP to Jean Nolan at 718-990-8059 or by October 21, 2015.

Center Appoints Student Fellows for 2015-2016


Cipolla and Vlahos

We’re delighted to report that the Center for Law and Religion has appointed two student fellows for 2015-2016, Stephanie Cipolla (3L) and Christina Vlahos (2L). Cipolla, who served as a fellow last year as well, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a B.A. in political science. Before coming to St. John’s, she spent a year working for the CEO of Catholic Charities – Archdiocese of New Orleans. She is a staff member on the St. John’s Law Review.

Vlahos, who joins us as a new fellow this year, graduated from Columbia College (Columbia University) with a B.A. in English Literature and Modern Greek Studies.  She is a staff member on the St. John’s Law Review.

Our student fellows help out with various Center activities, including, most importantly, keeping this blog updated with daily Scholarship Roundup posts and our weekly Around the Web feature. This is our fifth class of student fellows. We selected our first in 2011.

We welcome Stephanie and Christina and wish them success in the year ahead!

Won’t Somebody Please Think of the Lawyers?

Pope_Francis_in_March_2013I’ll leave it to others more knowledgeable than I to assess the changes Pope Francis announced this morning with respect to the procedure for granting annulments. To an outsider, the changes certainly seem sweeping. Francis has eliminated the requirement that two tribunals agree to grant an annulment — a kind of mandatory appeal procedure. Now, the ruling of only one tribunal will suffice. Moreover, unlike in the past, the tribunal need not contain an expert in canon law. Indeed, the number of judges on the tribunal has been reduced from three to one.

In addition, the reforms greatly expand the authority of the local bishop to grant annulments. (For what it’s worth, in my own Armenian Orthodox Church, divorces–we don’t have annulments–are handled by the local bishop in a more or less informal process). If there is an appeal from a tribunal’s decision, the local bishop will hear it, rather than church courts in Rome–though a second appeal would go to Rome. In some cases, where grounds for annulment are “evident,” the bishop can grant an annulment in an even more expedited process. Papal biographer Austen Ivereigh told the Washington Post that Francis’s granting these powers to local bishops is “the most-far reaching reform to the Church’s nullity process in 300 years.”

As I say, I will leave if for others to assess the effect of all this — whether the benefits that come from streamlining the process outweigh the danger that unwilling people, who don’t want their marriages annulled, will be railroaded — and what the impact will be for the upcoming synod on the family. As to that, my guess is that some of the heat has been taken off. It would only be reasonable to wait to see how these new reforms work before tackling other neuralgic issues, like communion for divorced and remarried Catholics who have not received annulments. But, as I say, I’m an outsider.

There is one thing that strikes me, however, as a professor at a Catholic law school. As a result of the new, streamlined process, canon law will be even less important to the lives of most American Catholics than it already is. In America, anyway, canon law is, in practice, mostly a matter of marriage annulments. If you don’t need canon law for that, what do you need it for? Chad Pecknold tells the Washington Post that many of his canon-lawyer friends are thinking of a new line of work. No wonder.

I do wish the Vatican had considered all this. Do they have any idea how hard it is to convince American law students to take canon law? And haven’t they heard about the employment crisis for American lawyers?

On the Influence of the Scribes

At the Liberty Law site, my friend John McGinnis has a very interesting post on what he calls America’s “scribal class.” These are people – professors, journalists, opinion writers, lawyers, even entertainment industry types – who set America’s cultural and political agendas. John writes that they have enormous power, and all skew one way: Left.

John extrapolates from a recent study on the liberalism of American lawyers:

Academics in the humanities and social sciences set a long-term agenda for the country by educating the young and by shaping the categories of thought. The news media shapes the shorter-term political agenda by deciding what to emphasize in its coverage and how to spin it. Lawyers, whom Tocqueville almost two centuries ago understood as the aristocrats of the United States, are experts at using the courts and the burgeoning administrative state to shift social policy. And the study leaves out the entertainment industry and government bureaucrats, groups that are also on the left.  Entertainers help set social agendas, and bureaucrats often help advance the programs of liberal politicians and obstruct those of conservatives.

Thus, the left owns the commanding heights of our democracy. Given this power, it is a surprise that the right wins as many elections as it does. To be sure, modern information technology has created a more dispersed media world and permitted conservatives a somewhat greater voice. But the imbalances remain dramatic.

John goes on to contrast the scribal class with “producers,” those people who “produce material goods and non-information services for a living.” Producers, he suggests, do not skew Left, or at least not as much as the scribal class. They serve as a kind of cultural counterweight, to the great annoyance of the scribes.

John is right in his assessment of the cultural and political leanings of the scribal class, and the outsize influence members of that class have over the direction of the country. He’s not as persuasive when it comes to the producers. Corporate America and the cultural Left often find themselves on the same side of public debates, as last spring’s controversy over the Indiana RFRA law, and last summer’s reaction to Obergefell decision, demonstrate. Corporate America really doesn’t stand in opposition to the Left, unless one defines the Left purely in economic terms.

John minimizes one factor, though, and that is the scribal class’s almost total disregard of religion, at least traditional religion. True, the media sometimes presents religious minorities in a flattering light, usually as examples of a benign multiculturalism. But there is little respect for the legitimacy of religious convictions as such, especially the convictions of traditional believers. There is little knowledge even of basic facts.

Witness, for example, yesterday’s reaction to Pope Francis’s statement on forgiving women who show contrition for having had abortions. The media has trumpeted the pope’s statement as a major, surprising departure from Catholic teaching, rather than a temporary relaxing of formal rules on who may grant absolution – as though the concept of forgiving sins was somehow alien to Christian doctrine. Pope John Paul II had relaxed the rules in the last Holy Year, in 2000, a fact most media failed to report.

To me, all this suggests two things, neither of which, I guess, is particularly new. First, religious conservatives must do a better job making inroads in the scribal class, or develop an alternative vehicle for expression, if they are not to be steamrolled entirely out of the public conversation. Second, conservatives should focus less on politics itself and more on the culture that drives politics – on hearts and minds, not election returns.

You can read John’s whole piece here.

International Law and Religion Moot Court: Venice 2016


The Fondazione Marcianum in Venice

The Fondazione Marcianum, a research center in Venice, will hold its second annual international law-and-religion moot court competition this coming March. The competition, which gathers law students from universities around the world, is the only one of its kind: a truly international competition in which students argue a case before panels simulating both the US Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights. Full disclosure: I took part as a judge in last year’s competition and found it extremely worthwhile. This year, I’ve helped craft the problem and will deliver one of the keynote addresses.

This year’s problem relates to the establishment of religion — to school prayer, specifically. You can download the problem here. I greatly encourage law students to consider competing. It’s a truly unique educational experience. Any questions, please contact the Fondazione here.

Ever Hear of This Guy?

A book out this summer, on Renaissance banker Jacob Fugger, is getting lots of the-richest-man-who-ever-lived-9781451688559_lgattention. The Richest Man Who Ever Lived claims that Fugger, of whom pretty much no one has ever heard, was one of the most influential people in his age — and all of history, in fact. According to the author, journalist and securities analyst Greg Steinmetz, Fugger is indirectly responsible both for the end of the Catholic Church’s ban on the taking of interest and, in a roundabout way, the Protestant Reformation. From the Washington Post‘s review:

Fugger’s “greatest talent was an ability to borrow the money he needed to invest,” Steinmetz writes. “He convinced cardinals, bishops, dukes, and counts to loan him oceans of money. . . . Financial leverage catapulted him to the top.” But in order to charge and offer interest payments, he had to battle the church’s long-standing ban on usury. Here Fugger’s links to Rome, buttressed through bribes for high church officials, became useful. Through artful lobbying and the staging of a high-profile public debate, he helped persuade Pope Leo X to sign a papal bull acknowledging the legitimacy of interest, which became permissible as long as the loan involved labor, cost or risk on behalf of the lender. “And what loan didn’t involve one of the three?” Steinmetz asks. After this victory, “debt financing accelerated,” he writes. “The modern economy was underway.”

It was a system that soon prompted controversies and suffered attacks, whether peasant revolts or even the Protestant Reformation. Clerical offices were for sale then, and Fugger financed the purchase of an influential job — the archbishop of Mainz, one of the seven electors of the Holy Roman Emperor. In order to repay the loan, the new bishop and the pontiff concocted a scheme: the sale of sin-forgiving indulgences to the faithful, ostensibly to refurbish St. Peter’s Basilica but in large part to repay Fugger. A 33-year-old priest and theologian by the name of Martin Luther was outraged at the church cashing in on popular fears of damnation and posted his 95 Theses on the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg. You know what happened next.

I’m always suspicious of claims that an author has discovered a previously unknown person who changed the course of history. But who knows? Anyway, the book looks interesting, and it’s nice to see the history of law and religion getting some attention in the  media.

In Defense of Christians to Hold National Convention Next Month

In Defense of Christians, a non-profit organization that publicizes the plight of Mideast Christians and seeks assistance for them, will hold its National Leadership Convention in Washington, DC next month. The meeting will include roundtables and open discussions with religious and political leaders; policy briefings with congressional leaders; panels on international religious freedom; and an ecumenical discussion on bridging gaps between Eastern and Western Christians–all with the aim of raising awareness about the human rights of Mideast Christians. Details are here.